Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Abuse: The Trauma of Dog-eared pages

I'm currently reading The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Vishwanathan, a big, fat book with many pages. It belongs to The Duchess who is generous to a fault with lending items from her personal library--too generous because some of her books/dvds have been sadly classified as Missing In Action in a forever, full stop, plan the funeral kind of way. I tell her book kidnappers need to be banned from her library, but she persists, her eyes glaring it's for the greater good as she shucks books at gluttonous readers left and right. Guests leave her house cheeks rosy, guts paunchy, dragging bags of books behind them.

My shelves house an entire section of books that belong to The Duchess. This is okay, she tells me, because my books have also taken up residence on her shelves. She likes it that way; we have interchangeable book collections, transient volumes that are at home wherever they happen to reside -- the "what's mine is yours" ideal.

This would be fine except for the fact that I treat what's "mine" very badly. I'm a book wrecker. I like my books to feel like they've been read. My books are like shoes; I break them in. This means I deliberately crack spines before I've even started reading. I like to warm them up before I sink in. I love that satisfying, creaky paper-moan--it's like I'm cracking book knuckles and it feels so good. I read through paperbacks, covers folded back--and even try to fold back hardcovers so I can snuggle down deep. If it's a good book, I'll roll it up like a newspaper and feel it warm into the curve of my hands. I flip through the pages with my thumb and mess 'em up until the sharp-cut edge of paper is worn and feathered. Through the course of one reading, the book and I become one.

If I'm reviewing a book, I massacre it with notes in the end pages and margins, my scrawling, unreadable handwriting jamming through the text, oblivious and self-important. If I'm snacking while reading, no napkins are needed. Peanutbutter smears, smashed up bits of chocolate, and flowery drops of juice texturize my book pages, every flip of a page a glimpse into the delights of my appetite.

Book jackets never make it through an entire read. They are annoying and disruptive. I slide them off and they tumble to my bedroom floor, crushed beneath the roll of my desk chair, kicked under piles of unwashed laundry never to be seen again.

But, as I recently learned through a series of panicked texts between The Duchess and I, the most deplorable act of book wreckage I practice is the brutish habit of dog-earing pages. She likes her pages straight and clean, no obnoxious, unruly dents.

My room is littered with forlorn bookmarks all gifted to me by well-meaning friends who don't understand how unnatural and disruptive it is for me to have to slide a strip of paper in and out of my pages every time I read. I will start with good intentions, all civilized and proper, a lovely embellished bookmark tucked into my book and carefully set aside while I daintily flip pages...but then the bookmark is lost in the folds of my duvet, or has fallen under the bed, or is crushed beneath me, or is trampled by spiders and I simply cannot be bothered to worry about where it went and what I'll do without it.

I'm an aggressive dog-earer. I will fold pages right in half if there's a passage I want to come back to later. I'm not discriminating either--I will fold both top and bottom corners and will even commit double folds on those rare, but special occasions.

But when The Duchess informed me that this was the one and only thing* she could not endure her books to suffer, I realized I had to reform--at least when I was reading one of her books, which is in fact, a lot of the time. So I found a bookmark. It was adorned with pressed flowers. It had a crimson tassel.

The Toss of a Lemon is a very big, very fat book. I am enjoying it. The bookmark is still there. But I am in pain. I feel as if I've been put in restraints. Sometimes I can't breathe properly. I will admit that I do feel a bit more refined. I think I even sit up a little straighter when I read with my bookmark. I am suddenly respectable, me and my pressed flower bookmark settling down for an evening read.

BUT TAKE HEED: I am doing everything I can to stop myself from ripping this book in half. The content is fine, but this energy, this excess energy, it is driving me mad.

Are you a book wrecker? Or, do you like your pages smart and clean?

* I don't think The Duchess would appreciate food decay smashed between the pages of her book either, but because she was particularly insistent on her hatred of folded pages, I focussed my energy there. No juice stains to report.

Photo Credits: Worn book titled "Salim's visitor book" by Jaymis Loveday, clean books titled "Books" by shutterhacks, book with bookmark titled "A Storm of Swords" by flossyflotsam.


  1. I do not like dog-eared pages, my friend. And I keep my books nice and neat. I may write in them, but always in pencil. But I remember telling you that Phoebe Gilman (the author of Jillian Jiggs) told me when I was 8 that she loved seeing her books tattered and torn. It just meant that kids were enjoying them. And you just enjoy your books to pieces :)

    1. I find myself wincing when I fold the pages of my new Alice Munro maybe book respect is rubbing off on me.